If you are going through divorce in San Jose, you should be aware that some people will go to shocking lengths to hurt their ex during a divorce proceeding. There are countless “dirty divorce tricks” that people have tried over the years. One of the most heinous involves false accusations of child abuse.
Accusations of child abuse are treated very seriously in Family Court in Santa Clara County California. Every child custody and visitation decision made by the Court will be made after considering the best interests of the child(ren), and child abuse is never in a child’s best interests. There are serious criminal penalties associated with child abuse, and there are also serious criminal penalties associated with lying under oath (perjury) when knowingly making a false accusation of a crime. This blog posting is expressly limited to issues in the Family Court, and no warranty, whether express or implied, regarding any matter that either does or may involve the California Penal Code and/or criminal law, is made herein.
There are two common scenarios involving false abuse allegations during a divorce-related child custody dispute. Typically it is the mother who accuses the father of sexually abusing the children, or the father accuses the mother’s new romantic partner of sexually abusing the children. The accusations are often made under oath, but with only a single eyewitness to testify (the mother or the father). False allegations of violent physical abuse are much less common, because violent physical abuse usually causes bruises or obvious injuries, which could be easily shown with a simple photograph taken right after the abuse. Sexual abuse is usually harder to prove or disprove, which can make false accusations a tempting tactic for a vengeful ex who wants to cause trouble as you’re trying to rebuild your life.
Cases involving claims of sexual abuse are usually difficult to handle in Court, but they are even more prone to problems when the alleged victim is a young child. The younger a child is, the more open he or she is to being manipulated into playing along with false accusations. Additionally, the accuser will often point to behaviors such as bed wetting or throwing unexplained temper tantrums as possible signs of abuse when many children have these issues as a result of the divorce itself. The motivation to make a false allegation of abuse is usually to take the child(ren) away from a parent, and losing a parent can hurt a child. Studies have been done to try to quantify the harm to a child of having their father removed from their life, but the statistics are beyond this attorney’s ability to comment on. Instead, I will just state that lying about abuse is a horrible thing, and it can cause grave harm to the child.
If you have been falsely accused of abuse, try your best not to panic. It is natural to be upset and angry about being accused of such a heinous crime, but any impulsive actions on your part could be used against you at a later date. Even if you feel confident your ex has no proof to substantiate the claims, any and all allegations of abuse are very serious. You do not want to do anything that could place you at risk of losing your children or facing criminal charges.
Once your ex has made abuse allegations, do not discuss your case with anyone but your lawyer. Do not agree to talk to law enforcement personnel before speaking with your attorney. An experienced Family Law attorney may suggest that you associate in a criminal attorney. You may worry that getting an attorney will make you seem guilty, but you need to have an experienced professional on your side to make sure your rights are being protected.
Keep complete records of what you spend on your defense. A Court finding that the allegations of child abuse were false will allow the Family Court to make an award of legal fees in your favor. Such a finding will also generally undermine the accusing parties’ credibility with the Court in a lasting fashion. A finding that there was child abuse will generally result in the loss of custody, visitations being supervised, and a severe loss of credibility with the Family Court.
If you have seen what you believe is evidence of child abuse being perpetrated by the other party, then you should take the child to a medical doctor. Some forms of evidence disappear quickly. Medical Doctors are Mandated Reporters of child abuse in California, and they will generally know what to look for. Because making a false allegation of child abuse can severely hurt your credibility with the Court it is best to have a professional look into the matter.